An Appeal for Fairness for Professor Hall: Response to Brenner
This post is a response to a comment of Gabrielle A. Brenner, made on March 5, 2017, to a post of Daniel Paul O’Donnell. Brenner’s comment, in full, is as follows:
“I was surprised to read your defence of professor Hall.
The suspension of Anthony Hall isn’t premature and should have occured a long time ago. The crisis at Lethbridge isn’t that he is suspended now but that this should have been done a long time ago.
Just as a story to show why, in 2008, after I sent a letter to the editor of the National Post commenting a letter of Mr. Hall (who as usual signed as Professor Hall) that said if I remember well that it was wrong to condemn Lesley Hugues, then a liberal candidate for Parliament, of anti-Semitism after she suggested that Israelis were behind 9/11 (the leader of the liberal party Stéphane Dion asked her to step down as a candidate after this), and that as a Canadian taxpayer I was asking if he was fit to teach. As this was outside my academic area of expertise, I signed Gabrielle Brenner, not professor Brenner (I was a professor of economics at HEC-Montreal, now retired). Then M. Hall proceeded to google me (happy for him I wasn’t named Jeanne Tremblay) and started bombarding me, my dean, his dean, the CAUT and what not with emails about my infringing on his “academic freedom” and asking for my being investigated and censored. I still have the emails. (and this by the way shows that Anthony Hall’s idea of free speech is akin of what was going on in the Soviet Union, free speech for me but not for thee).
My answer to all was the following:
“Basically I stand by what I wrote then. “Professor” Hall defended and agreed with a woman who asserted that Jews were behind 9/11 and that Jews were told not to come to work in the twin towers on 9/11… This is anti-Semitism and an ignorance of facts and rationality which make one doubts that the person who hold this view is fit to teach.
Not only didn’t Lethbridge (whose dean, professor Hakin , was on Hall’s blitz of emails then) do anything but it seems has let this man go on and on about his conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism (as this is what Holocaust denial is) and poison young minds. Of course all the people that got the mails (except the 9/11 nutters who he also cced and who proceeded to email me) said there was nothing there except my right as a citizen to comment.
The question is not what Mr Hall believes… As any citizen he has the right to his opinions, whether UFOs cause global warming, or the CIA emits rays to make people do things they don’t want to. If this is what he believes he can claim it in any newspaper or any forum outside his place of work although by using the title professor, he tries to convey to the masses that this has solid academic research behind it, which isn’t the case.
But free speech isn’t subsidized speech and using the university forum to peddle unsubstantiated claim isn’t free speech nor is it academic freedom. And he hasn’t the right to use his position to teach it to students as this isn’t his area of competence (and he did as the youtube video on a joint course of Lethbridge and MacMaster attests (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QHVB9H35DM) and as he himself has said in the David Gray’s CBC interview.
According to a 2011 statement from Canada’s Universities (http://www.univcan.ca/media-room/media-releases/statement-on-academic-freedom/),
Academic freedom is the freedom to teach and conduct research in an academic environment. Academic freedom is fundamental to the mandate of universities to pursue truth, educate students and disseminate knowledge and understanding…
Unlike the broader concept of freedom of speech, academic freedom must be based on institutional integrity, rigorous standards for enquiry and institutional autonomy, which allows universities to set their research and educational priorities.
Mr Hall hasn’t a recognized academic expertise in either the Shoah, or the engineering behind the fall of the two towers on 9/11. On the other hand he has been given a free hand by your establishment to poison the minds of students by using his position as professor to teach Holocaust denial (which insults me as most of my family was murdered in the Shoah) and conspiracies by Jews and Israel behind 9/11, without having any recognized academic competences in either subject. This is disgraceful. Academic freedom and tenure shouldn’t be the shield of those that teach anti-Semitism, hate speech and unreason.”
Neither you nor I are members of the University of Lethbridge academic community, although I do have a son who is enrolled as a student. I care, of course, whether my son receives an education, and I do not want him to be indoctrinated, so I have a particular stake in how the case of Professor Hall is handled, which perhaps you do not.
However, as citizens, we both have a common interest in the matter. I am sure you will agree with me that it is in the public interest that all students receive a good education, and that it is better to live in a society whose members are relatively free from indoctrinated mindsets than to live in one with misinformed closed minds.
As I see it the primary rationale for academic freedom is grounded in the university’s responsibility to produce genuine knowledge and to educate. If university professors are to acquire and propagate knowledge then they must be able to follow the evidence to whatever conclusion the evidence points, without fear of political interference or offending popular belief. Do you agree that this is why there needs to be institutional arrangements protecting their academic freedom?
The focus of Professor O’Donnell’s blogpost, to which you commented, is not so much on Professor Hall, as it is on due process in the context of dealing with professors who take controversial stands. Hall is merely a case in point. Controversial stands inevitably give rise to calls for dismissal which in turn call for the activation of institutional arrangements designed to protect academic freedom. Valuable as academic freedom is, I, for one, think it has limits, and these limits should be determined by the same grounds which underpin academic freedom itself: the responsibility to produce knowledge and to educate.
I applaud your good citizenship in expressing your opinion about whether you think Tony Hall is fit to teach, and, though I disagree with you, I value your complaints because they can serve as helpful examples for prompting us to think through how universities should determine what the limits of academic freedom are. I would like to take some of your accusations one by one, and ask the question of how the university should handle them. I’m sure you will agree that it is obvious that due process cannot consist of acting on the opinion of either you or me, but perhaps our thoughts on the matter will prove helpful. I welcome any response from you, or anyone else, who might be able to provoke further thoughts on this matter.
The 7 accusations I discuss will be dealt with in the following order:
- Professor Hall has been teaching Holocaust denial, which insults you as someone whose family was murdered in the Shoah
- Professor Hall has defended and agreed with Lesley Hughes who you regard as anti-Semitic
- Professor Hall has poisoned young minds with “conspiracy theories” and anti-Semitism
- Those who question the official narrative of what happened on 9/11 are “nutters”
- Professor Hall has no right to say what he believes about 9/11 in the university setting
- Professor Hall fails to substantiate what he believes about 9/11
- Professor Hall is incompetent with regard to the arguments surrounding the events of 9/11
Accusation 1: Professor Hall has been teaching Holocaust denial, which insults you as someone whose family was murdered in the Shoah
It is not until the end of your comment that you say that most of your family was murdered in the Shoah, but I am starting here because I think it gets most quickly to the heart of the concerns of both of us.
I am very sorry to hear that most of your family was murdered in the Shoah, and I recognize that this must make you very sensitive to Holocaust denial. I assume that your reaction to Professor Hall is motivated by the cry “Never again”, and though you may regard my response to you as opposition, I too am motivated by the cry. To me the cry represents many things, one of which is never letting totalitarianism take over again, and, whether the cry represents exactly the same thing for you as it does for me, as far as I can see our concerns are ultimately compatible and mutually supportive.
That being said I must say that, to my knowledge, professor Hall has never denied that the Shoah occurred. It is true that he has said that the different versions of what happened should be open to honest debate, but I do not interpret that to mean denial of anything.
Whatever version of the Shoah is true, to me what matters most about it is the lessons we can learn from it in order to avoid similar occurrences in the future. I shall offer here one of the lessons I take from it, but there are many lessons to be learned, and if you want to add to mine I welcome what you have to say.
Long before the events of 9/11 I took an interest in the rise of Nazism. The key question which motivated me was how could a nation, like that of Germany, become so morally blind as to follow the “leadership principle”, even to the extent of giving over agency to their leaders to murder the infirm, Jewish people, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political dissidents, and to wage war on their Eastern neighbours for the purpose of acquiring “lebensraum”? The question is huge, with many complex and controversial strands for an answer.
One of these strands has to do with what happened in the universities. After the Reichstag fire in February 1933, for which the communists were blamed, book burnings began, and soon after that the “leadership principle” was extolled and utilized within the universities. Independent-minded professors were expelled. For a summary of some of this history see Amy R. Sims’ Intellectuals in Crisis: Historians Under Hitler.
In a controversial book, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery, Benjamin Hett draws upon some relatively new sources, and concludes that the fire was a false flag perpetrated by the Nazis. Many have drawn parallels between the Reichstag fire and 9/11; for example Revisiting ‘9/11’ on its 15th Anniversary, in the Context of the Reichstag Fire. Others, have condemned the comparison as offensive, as illustrated in Keith Ellison: “9/11 Was Like the Reichstag Fire”.
An example of what happened in the universities is the case of Hermann Oncken, a highly-respected historian until Hitler’s rise to power, who was forced to retire in 1935, well before the beginning of World War II. Oncken skirted conflict with the Nazi regime on more than one occasion. The event which brought the hammer down upon him was a lecture in which he argued against the distortion of history for political reasons. Three weeks later one of his former students, Walter Frank, published an article in the Völkischer Beobachter, the daily newspaper of the Nazi party, in which he smeared Oncken using “tricks of distortion and misrepresentation”. (See p. 157 in Felix E. Hirsch’s Hermann Oncken and the End of an Era, in the Journal of Modern History, which can be accessed at jstor.)
Speaking of tricks of distortion and misrepresentation in public media, does it look like a pattern is being repeated in the case of Professor Hall? For those unfamiliar with the story, one telling of it can be found here: B’nai Brith attack on Canadian professor has roots in Zionist false flag tactics.
At the outset of this post I said that academic freedom has limits. Suppose professor Hall had written the words next to the image someone put up on the Facebook page that framed him:
“There never was a ‘Holocaust’, but there should have been and, rest assured, there WILL be, as you serpentine kikes richly deserve one. I will not rest until every single filthy, parasitic kike is rounded up and slaughtered like the vermin that they are. The white man has had more than enough of the international Jewry and we are more than prepared to smite the parasite for the millionth time. The greedy, hook-nosed kikes knows that their days are numbered and, unlike in the past, they have nowhere to run. This time there will be no kikes alive to spread around the planet like cockroaches. We will get them ALL into the oven and their putrid memory will finally be erased from the planet once and for all. Like all parasite, the Jew will continue to reproduce until every single last one has been wiped out. This is why it is crucial that all kikes are ruthlessly and mercilessly butchered for the good of us all. KILL ALL JEWS NOW! EVERY LAST ONE!”
If Hall had written this it would of course be beyond the limits of academic freedom, and he should be dismissed.
But anyone paying attention can plainly see that this is a false flag attack. No one needs Professor Hall’s analysis to see that it makes absolutely no sense for him to have composed the incriminating words above, but his analysis, in Hate Speech Deceptions: Joshua Goldberg’s Prolific Production of Discordant Fake Voices, throws a lot of light on what might actually be going on.
Aside from the anti-Semitic nature of the words themselves whoever posted them was taking a significant risk of generating anti-Semitism. Not only was the posting a despicable deception aimed at bringing Professor Hall into profound disrepute, but in the confusion it has created it has been very injurious to the university and to its administration. Those who see it for what it really is, and the harm that it has done, will be tempted to cast around for someone to blame, and there is some risk of a blanket condemnation of Jewish people.
For those who are inclined to such a blanket condemnation, I would like to add another strand to the story about Hermann Oncken. Walter Frank, the person who unfairly smeared Oncken, acted in the way that Nazis depicted Jewish people: perfidious, deceitful, grasping, opportunistic, and willing to hurt others to get ahead. He is an example of how some people project their own flaws onto others. There is no category of people immune to this tendency.
Frank was rewarded with the directorship of a newly created Nazi institution, the Reich Institute for History of the New Germany, which aimed at promoting the Nazi interpretation of history. He tied his own self-esteem to a racial identity, and promoted this amongst others so that they did not wish to be “anything but a spiritual expression of the National Socialist revolution, an expression of the great age of Adolf Hitler.” (P. 158 in Felix E. Hirsch’s Hermann Oncken and the End of an Era). When the Nazi regime collapsed his world seemed senseless and in 1945 he committed suicide.
The Oncken case was, of course, only one of many in a systematic Nazi campaign to shape the views of a culture. Is the Hall case also part of a systematic campaign? There are several recent cases in the Western democracies that point to the possibility that this is so. I have not yet compiled a list, so that is a story for another time, but here is a recent article that captures the zeitgeist: Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression.
I do not fear that my son will be indoctrinated if he chooses to take a course from Professor Hall. But I do fear for the sons and daughters of us all if he does not have this choice made available to him, and if this pattern of silencing dissent continues.
I like to think of universities as being like the eyes of a culture. For me, the primary lesson of the Shoah is “Don’t put your eyes out.”
Accusation 2: Professor Hall has defended and agreed with Lesley Hughes who you regard as anti-Semitic
I now turn to the beginning of your comment, to respond to your accusations in roughly the order you make them.
You say that Tony defended and agreed with Lesley Hughes, a journalist who wanted to run as a candidate for the Liberal party in the 2008 federal election. You say that this story explains why he should have been dismissed long ago. You will be more familiar with the story than I am, and I expect that you know many details about it which I do not. Perhaps if I knew more of the details I would be more inclined to agree with you. However, given what I know of it, I have a very different take. It appears to me that Tony was trying to defend a fellow citizen from unfair defamation and bullying. I think this to be exemplary citizenship, not an indication of conduct calling for dismissal. Many links could be given to provide background on this, and I’m not sure I have the best ones, but here are a few:
The story prompts the following questions: Is the story at all relevant to the question as to whether Professor Hall should be dismissed, or in some way disciplined? How would it bear upon the issue?
An additional claim you make, which is related to your story, is that it is anti-Semitic for Hall to agree with Hughes “that Jews were behind 9/11 and that Jews were told not to come to work in the twin towers on 9/11”. You say that this is ignoring facts and rationality. It is worth noting that the quoted words appear to be yours, and not those of Lesley Hughes. The website Blackrod got Hughes into trouble during the election of 2008, by quoting from a column of hers published in 2002, in which she refers to “the Israeli Mossad.” As far as I can tell Hughes was not stereotyping Jewish people, and, even if she used the word “Jew” (and I do not know whether she did) she clearly did not think of herself as an anti-Semite. Furthermore Hall did not entirely agree with Hughes, but made the point (in his blog post linked above) that opposing anti-Semitism should not become a “shield of obfuscation” in trying to follow the evidence wherever it should lead.
I wonder what “facts” you are referring to that you think Hall was ignoring. It is a fact that Haaretz reported that two Israeli-located workers for Odigo, an instant messaging service, received a message two hours before the 9/11 attack that the attack was about to occur. In doing some research on this I have found a lot of fog surrounding the significance of this. Perhaps you think that Hall did not clearly see through the fog to some fact that you know about, but it is impossible to assess your assertion without knowing what you are referring to.
However, let us leave aside your your claim that Hall has ignored some facts and your perception of Hughes as an anti-Semite, and suppose, hypothetically, that Tony does defend irrational anti-Semites who do not have their facts right. The question is, what should the university do if this is the case? Should the university administration be expected to contact you to find out what facts you’re talking about and check them? Does defense of an anti-Semite indicate that one is anti-Semitic oneself? Given the assumption that Robert Faurisson is an anti-Semite does it follow that Noam Chomsky’s defense of him indicate that Chomsky is an anti-Semite?
You also say that Hall released a blitz of emails in response to your questioning of his fitness to teach. Without having seen the emails I’m inclined to think they would have been a wonderful opportunity to engage in an exchange of ideas, even if some of them were intemperate (and I don’t mean to insinuate that they were). Are you suggesting that the university should review these in order to make a decision about whether Hall should be dismissed? Would you generalize this, and say that as a rule university administrations should review correspondence between professors and their critics in order to make sure that … what? That they display the correct attitude? What would that be? If you would not generalize it, then what makes this case special?
Accusation 3: Professor Hall has poisoned young minds with “conspiracy theories” and anti-Semitism
You say that Hall is poisoning young minds. How so? He is clearly an advocate for claims – “conspiracy theories” you call them – that run counter to narratives that are propagated by the media and have come to be widely accepted as true. Is it not healthy for university students to be introduced to such claims? Should the university administration be trying to determine the truth of these claims? Suppose, hypothetically, that Hall’s claims are mostly false. Do you think that university students are going to simply turn against the current and swallow the claims uncritically? On the other hand, suppose that it is the mainstream narratives that are the poison, and that without the opportunity to think about these “conspiracy theories”, students who are already swimming with the currents will be left without an antidote. Which course of action on the part of the university is most likely to avert the poisoning of minds?
If I may go off on a brief historical tangent, the phrase “poisoning young minds” reminds me of a quote from an opponent of Benjamin Hedrick, a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina, dismissed in 1856 from his post because he publicly argued in support of the anti-slavery Republican presidential candidate, John C. Fremont:
“if our information be entirely correct in regard to the political tendencies and Fremont bias of this professor, ought he not to be ‘required to leave,’ at least dismissed from a situation where his poisonous influence [my emphasis] is so powerful and his teachings so antagonistical to ‘the honor and safety’ of the University and the State?”
There are a number of similarities between Hedrick’s case and Hall’s. Hedrick was trying to challenge prevailing assumptions about people of African ancestry, Hall of people of Islamic heritage. But the culture of Hedrick’s time from was different from our own. It is often easier to see through the distortions of a culture of another time than those of one’s own. If you have the opportunity, take a look at the case of Benjamin Hedrick. Do you think it was wrong for the university to have dismissed him? If so, what makes his case different from that of professor Hall’s?
Accusation 4: Those who question the official narrative of what happened on 9/11 are “nutters”
You refer to those who disbelieve the prevailing narrative about 911 as “nutters”. I am curious as to what criteria you are using for determining whether someone is a “nutter”. It looks as though you may be begging the question, using a pattern of thought that goes something like this:
There are no good reasons to disbelieve the conventional narrative about 911.
Person A disbelieves the conventional narrative.
Therefore A is a nutter.
Therefore whatever A might say is not to be considered a good reason to doubt the conventional narrative.
This is circular reasoning of course, and I expect you have better ways than this of deciding who is a nutter. But it is unclear what these ways might be. Can you explain? If not, why should the university administration take seriously the complaints of someone who is so quick to dismiss those whose beliefs lie outside the mainstream as “nutters”?
History is strewn with instances of claims which lay outside the mainstream which turned out to be true. For example, Ernst Chladni published a book in 1794 in which he claimed that meteorites were rocks that fell out of the sky. Initially regarded as nuts, his ideas were not so politically charged as to prevent further investigation, and it was eventually demonstrated: rocks do fall out of the sky.
A contrasting story is that of Nikolai Vavilov during the Stalin era. He was skeptical of the politically supported non-Mendelian theory of Trofim Lysenko. Along with thousands of other biologists, he was imprisoned. In prison he died of starvation. Lysenkoism set back Soviet genetics for decades. In opposing the politically unpopular skepticism of Professor Hall what makes you sure that you are not like a supporter of Lysenko?
Accusation 5: Professor Hall has no right to say what he believes about 9/11 in the university setting
You say that Hall is entitled to say what he believes “outside his place of work”, thus implying that his right to freedom of expression should be restricted at work. But who said the right to freedom of expression is shed upon entering the workplace? Granted that there should be some limits to freedom of expression both within and outside work, what is special about the workplace that would give grounds for a restriction within it that would not also give grounds outside it?
I would like to divide my remarks on this into two parts. First is the question of whether a person has a moral right to freedom of expression, and the second is the question of whether the person has the legal right. The first question has to do with the kinds of expression to which we should apply non-legal social sanctions. Your calling out Professor Hall as an “anti-Semite” is the application of a negative social sanction, and my saying “No, no, he’s actually doing what a good citizen should do” is also the application of a social sanction, but of a positive kind. Our disagreement over this is independent of what the law might define as the line between permissible expression and impermissible expression.
Regarding the moral right, perhaps your view of the value of freedom of expression is very different from mine. On my view one of the most important places where freedom of expression should be protected (by social approval) is within the workplace, especially the workplaces of government agencies. It is much more helpful for people within the workplace, who understand the intricacies of how the work actually gets done, to be expressing ideas about how best to do the work, than it is for people outside the workplace, who are usually in no position to see how things are going wrong, or what to do to fix them. For example, the Youtube video, The Responsibility of the Academy to Illuminate the Truth and Lies of 9/11, which you cite as an example of Professor Hall’s illegitimate expression within the academy, appears to me to be making exactly the sort of internal criticism of the academy that ought to be made.
Your view appears to assume that protection of freedom of expression is for the sake of the person who wants to say something, and I agree that it is, but I regard the more important consideration to be the sake of the larger community. This is an old idea that goes back at least to the arguments of John Milton, and is explicitly expressed in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where it includes the right to “receive” information and ideas as part of the right to freedom of expression. Thus I regard the right to freedom of expression of Professor Hall within the classroom to be of value not so much to him, but to his students, who might have their understanding of the world changed by what he has to say (and this may be so even if they completely disagree), and also to the wider community which may be indirectly affected.
Perhaps a more careful exposition of your views would show that these differences with my own are more apparent than real, so I would like to spell out as best I can a couple of arguments for why it might be acceptable to express certain beliefs outside the workplace that would not be acceptable to express within it.
There are two ways in which an expression of belief might interfere with proper performance of work. One is distraction from the work. A second is conflict with the work. Either of these could give grounds for making it unacceptable to express an idea within the workplace that otherwise would be quite acceptable to express.
Regarding distraction, consider the work of a waiter in a restaurant. The customer in a restaurant wants to eat, not talk to the waiter about something unrelated, and the restaurant employer wants the customer to be efficiently served. While a certain amount of friendly banter might be appropriate, it can be carried too far. For example, it is not appropriate for a waiter to be aggressively proselytizing with uninterested customers.
Does this analogy apply in the case of professor Hall? I think not. In globalization studies surely the question of who did 9/11 is related to the subject matter. 9/11 initiated a “war on terror”. The war could not have been initiated had 9/11 not been blamed on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The Iraq invasion alone caused about half a million deaths in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 (see Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003–2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study). By itself this fact establishes the relevance of the question, and many more facts could be adduced.
The second way in which expression of a belief might interfere with proper performance of work is direct conflict with it. For example, a waiter might believe that the restaurant where he works vastly overprices the food, and that the restaurant next door gives much better value. To express this belief would not be appreciated by the restaurant owner, the employer. As an employee the waiter has an obligation to his employer to keep his mouth shut, and though a quibble could be advanced that it is his right as a citizen to warn prospective customers by expressing his belief, let us leave the quibble aside, as I am trying at this point to formulate the strongest arguments that you might make against the right of Professor Hall to express his beliefs in the classroom.
Here is what I take your strongest argument to be: By expressing his beliefs, Professor Hall is in conflict with the work of educating students. Education, you might argue, involves cultivating ways of thinking that enhance students’ ability to rationally assess evidence for themselves. By expressing his beliefs, Hall interferes with the ability of the students to make up their own minds about where they think the evidence leads.
In some circumstances I think this argument has some force. A relatively clear example would be the case of an elementary school teacher who tells his young pupils that God created everything in 7 days about 6000 years ago. An expression of this belief without the qualification that this is not what scientists think is in conflict with the work of education.
In the circumstances of a university where the professor is dealing with controversial issues the argument becomes much less clear and far trickier. Much depends upon the states of mind of the students being taught. Are the students easily swayed by the opinions of an authority figure? Are they tempted to rebel against such opinions? Do they even regard the professor as an authority figure? Will the students be confused about how to assess the professor’s assertions if the professor conceals his beliefs? Might students get the idea that there is no such thing as truth if the professor is unwilling to express his beliefs? Will an upfront statement of beliefs lend clarity and facilitate frank exchanges of ideas? Is the class inclined to groupthink, or are they independent thinkers? Some of both? Does the professor encourage independent thought even if it goes against her own beliefs, or does she exert pressure to agree with her? Will students be unfairly graded for having a different point of view? A professor should consider all these things, and more, if he is to properly perform the work of education. They are important considerations, and they are difficult ones. It matters whether the professor manages to take them all adequately into account.
It is impossible to always get exactly the right balance amongst these considerations. It is also impossible to know how close any particular attempt at education comes to getting it exactly right. Usually, the person best positioned to make this judgement is the professor herself. She is the one who knows the subject matter, and who is most aware of the complex interactions between herself and the students. Usually, the next best are the students. People who have not seen the performance in the classroom are not well-positioned to judge at all. This includes administrators, especially if they are not familiar with the subject matter. That is why one of the institutional arrangements is to leave these sorts of judgements, except in very extraordinary situations, to the discretion of the professor himself – which is one aspect of academic freedom. Thus, although freedom of expression and academic freedom are not exactly the same thing, they are nevertheless very much related. The freedom to teach as one sees fit is an application of the concept of freedom of expression in a particular kind of workplace: educational institutions.
I have now seen a great deal of Professor Hall’s performances on video, and I have not seen anything that suggests to me that his style of teaching is indoctrinative. I am sure that he is not perfect as an educator, but who is? You somehow see his performances differently. But what do you see that would call for an exception to the default policy of leaving university professors to teach as they think best?
A related comment you make is that the person who was dean (I surmise that this was the Dean of Arts and Science), “let this man [Hall] go on and on”, as if the dean were under some obligation to silence him. As I see it, the dean was under an obligation not to silence him. Even in the most hierarchical of workplaces the top boss does not have a sweeping moral right to order employees to be silent, especially about important workplace issues. If this is true in strongly hierarchical workplaces it is even more true in universities. Within universities there is an element of hierarchy, but they also have a strong culture of collegiality, and rightly so. Collegiality, which entails respect for the abilities of everyone in the community, requires a high degree of tolerance for dissenting views. Genuine knowledge cannot be produced by edicts from on high about what is to be considered as true. That’s Lysenkoism. The authorities in any subject matter are not those who rank high within a hierarchical structure, but those who are most immersed in the subject matter, and in the evidence and arguments within it.
I turn now to the second part of my remarks on your accusation that Professor Hall has no right to teach his beliefs in the university setting: the legal aspect of freedom of expression in the workplace. Here in Canada the right to freedom of expression is formulated as a “fundamental freedom” in Section 2b of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is constrained only by Section 1, which says that the fundamental freedoms are subject to reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. No mention is made of the workplace.
Here are the entire Sections 1 and 2 of the Charter:
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
Rights and freedoms in Canada
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
- Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
As an aside, it is worth noting that freedom of expression is not the only charter right relevant to Professor Hall’s case. Of particular relevance is freedom of conscience. “Truthers”, like Professor Hall, try to share their beliefs because of their moral implications. If public opinion is being manipulated by false flags then democracy is being undermined and needs to be restored. If innocent people are being framed in order to make them appear as enemies and this is used to generate public acceptance for going to war, for unnecessary economic sanctions against a perceived enemy, for torture or deprivation of basic rights, and so on, then the propaganda needs to be stopped. Whatever the truth of “truthers” beliefs they ought to be commended for this, and their right to act according to conscience respected.
The Alberta Human Rights Act imposes a limit to freedom of expression in Section 3:
Code of Conduct
Discrimination re publications, notices
3(1) No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that
(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a class of persons, or
(b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt
because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.
This “anti-hate” law could be interpreted to be a prohibition of the kinds of things that Professor Hall has been publicly saying. For example, he has said things like “The Mossad was likely involved in the perpetration of 9/11.” This could be interpreted as exposing Jewish people to hatred or contempt.
If interpreted this broadly then the Alberta Human Rights Act must be struck down as unconstitutional, because it cannot, as required by Section 1 of the Charter, be “justified in a free and democratic society”. If it could be justified, then we must muzzle First Nations people who claim to have been abused in Catholic residential schools as they might be exposing Catholics to hatred and contempt. For that matter, we must muzzle anyone who repeats the official narrative of what happened on 9/11, as that might expose Muslims to hatred and contempt. Surely a free and democratic society must permit the expression of such beliefs.
You say that Professor Hall is entitled to his beliefs, but he isn’t entitled to teach them in a university setting. This brings us back to my point: the right to freedom of expression is not shed upon entering the workplace, and especially not in the university workplace. The Charter protects freedom of conscience, thought, belief, opinion and expression, all of which are relevant to Professor Hall’s case, and this protection extends to educational institutions funded by the government.
Accusation 6: Professor Hall fails to substantiate what he believes about 9/11
You might say that I have so far missed the point. In a university setting, you say, academic responsibility requires teaching beliefs that can be substantiated. On this point you and I agree. However, you write as if believing anything other than the official narrative about 9/11 is analogous to believing that “UFOs cause global warming, or the CIA emits rays to make people do things they don’t want to”. This makes it sound as if 9/11 skepticism is a form of irresponsible speculation without any supporting evidence. This simply isn’t true. There is an enormous amount of evidence about various aspects of 9/11, much of which undermines the official narrative. Hall has been quite forthcoming about what evidence he uses to substantiate his beliefs. For example, in his presentation in 2009 at the University of Winnipeg, Bush League Justice, he cites numerous sources, such as the writings of David Ray Griffin. To say that his beliefs are unsubstantiated is a bit like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and saying, “This is not evidence that the earth is older than 6000 years.” Okay, maybe you have some reasons not to believe what the evidence seems to point to, or maybe you think that there is massive countervailing evidence, but you cannot credibly deny that the evidence exists.
Perhaps you mean to claim something like this: Professor Hall does not have direct experience of anything that would constitute some reason to disbelieve the official story. But if that is what you mean, then almost everything taught at universities must be dismissed. All curriculum material relies heavily on knowledge produced by others. (This is true even for what is learned in performing laboratory experiments, which are contextualized by a great deal of auxiliary theory that give meaning to direct experience.) It is perfectly legitimate for Professor Hall to appeal to the writings of someone like Griffin as evidence for his beliefs. How else is the university going to propagate knowledge and understanding if professors cannot refer to the work of others?
But, you may say, the sources cited by Professor Hall offer only flimsy or distorted reasons to disbelieve the official narrative. Well, I have recently been reading some of Griffin’s work, and it seems to me that he is a very careful and diligent researcher. Have you read his work, and come to a different conclusion? If so, would you be willing to share why your assessment is different from mine? And what should the university administration do? Perhaps assign some fair-minded professor to research the integrity of Hall’s sources? I’m sure Hall would only be too happy to see them do something like that.
An important aspect of seeking well-substantiated claims in an area connected with prosecuting a war is the fact that governments commonly engage in propaganda in order to further their objectives. Thus what they say must be assessed with an above-normal degree of skepticism. This is hardly a new idea. For example, Arthur Ponsonby wrote a book in 1928, Falsehood in War-Time: Propaganda Lies of the First World War, the whole of which is online. In his introductory paragraph he says:
“Falsehood is a recognized and extremely useful weapon in warfare, and every country uses it quite deliberately to deceive its own people, to attract neutrals, and to mislead the enemy. The ignorant and innocent masses in each country are unaware at the time that they are being misled, and when it is all over only here and there are the falsehoods discovered and exposed.”
There is a great deal of historical material supporting this view. For starters you might read Phillip Knightley’s The First Casualty (titled after Hiram Johnson’s saying, “The first casualty when war comes, is truth”).
In the context of 9/11, consider the writings internal to the administrative structures of the U.S. such as the report, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, put out in 2000 by the think tank Project for a New American Century, several of whose members served in the administration of George W. Bush. Arguing for a transformation of, and increased spending for, U.S. defense forces, the report states:
“… the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Consider this together with the vision statement, Joint Vision 2020, put out in 2000 by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, which emphasizes the “overarching focus” (p. 5) of “full spectrum dominance”, meaning dominance across all domains. On p. 30 it says:
“… operations within the information domain [my emphasis] will become as important as those conducted in the domains of sea, land, air, and space.”
(To check this reference click on the link above, and then choose the text only version.) These references do not, of course, explicitly state “We plan to tell lies,” and do not prove anything about what happened on 9/11, but they do highlight the need for above-normal skepticism of the official 9-11 Commission Report.
So if we, the general public, should have above-normal skepticism of the official report, how are we to gain any sort of rationally founded confidence about what to believe? One way is to do a whole lot of independent research and make up our own minds. But most of us do not have the time for this. This is why universities are so important – not only with respect to this issue, but many others. They are places where individuals interested in a particular subject matter can take the time to develop the expertise and knowledge necessary to make well-founded claims. It is also why tenure is so important as an institutional arrangement for protecting academic freedom.
We need to be able to trust academic researchers who have carefully studied the evidence for their claims. In order to trust their conclusions we need to know that they have been free to consider all sorts of arguments. If a government puts out an official story that we think should be subject to above-normal skepticism, and we think that there are some arguments that have been hidden – arguments that never get made because anyone who makes them risks losing their job (or worse) – then how can we be sure that the official narrative would not have been undermined by those hidden arguments?
Regardless of whether Professor Hall’s claims are well-substantiated, unless you have done a whole lot of research yourself you cannot know what to believe, because, as Professor Hall asserts, the academic community has not taken on the responsibility of giving serious consideration to all the arguments. The right response is not for the university community to expel him, but to cheer him on, and to take up the challenge to look at the full range of evidence.
As to your assertion that free speech is not subsidized speech, I cannot think of a better use for use for taxpayer money than supporting universities that encourage competing points of view, some of which will run counter to official government policies. Although we all want to be defended from genuine threats, most of us are peace-loving, and we do not want to be manipulated by false narratives that demonize innocent people and propel us into wars so that their resources may be taken from them.
Accusation 7: Professor Hall is incompetent with regard to the arguments surrounding the events of 9/11
You say that Professor Hall “ … hasn’t the right to use his position to teach it to students as this isn’t his area of competence.” It is not clear what you mean by “it” here. Perhaps you are referring simply to his view that the official narrative about 9/11 is false, but maybe you mean the claim that the state of Israel had some involvement. It is also unclear whether you think it would be wrong to teach that Israel was involved as a proven truth, or if it would be wrong to teach it as an open possibility that should be investigated. It sounds as if clarity about this doesn’t matter to you, as anything Professor Hall might say is to be disregarded as unfounded.
There are two ideas bound together with this notion of “area of competence”. First is that knowledge can be divided into areas with their own peculiar standards of competence. Second is that universities can, or should, issue some sort of stamp of approval indicating that someone is competent within an area. I think that both of these ideas make some sense, but in order to be well understood they need to be given closer examination before applying them to the case of Professor Hall. Major qualifications apply.
Regarding boundaries, it is true that competence in one area does not necessarily mean competence in another. You wouldn’t expect a history major to be adept at performing a titration, and you wouldn’t expect a chemistry major to be familiar with debates over historiography. Nevertheless, knowledge is one vast interconnecting web, and one of the great values of the institution of the university is the encouragement of traversal into all regions of it. The word “university” means a community of scholars from all branches of learning, and it is to be hoped that in such a community there will be a cross-fertilization of ideas from all areas. Thus the suggestion that Hall has crossed over into some area where he doesn’t belong seems to me to be at odds with the very idea of the university.
With regard to evidence surrounding the various explanations for the events of 9/11 (all of which are conspiracy theories, including the official theory) universities have a great deal to offer, if only they would take it up. This is because there are so many branches of learning that are relevant to the issue. You mention that Hall does not have expertise in “the engineering behind the fall of the two towers on 9/11”. This is true, but what about other areas of expertise: chemistry, physics, metallurgy, forensics, criminology, finance, aerodynamics, sociology, theory of knowledge, political theory, computer modelling, media studies – to name a few? They are all relevant are they not? One I missed is history. Does that not count? Is there nothing to be said in favour of the aphorism attributed to Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”? Professor Hall has never claimed that he can contribute to the debate over whether the impact of planes could cause the collapse of the World Trade Towers. But he knows a great deal about the history of the aggression of Europeans against the indigenous peoples of North America. There are many thousands of threads to this story, and he says that he sees patterns in the way they weave together which are similar to the patterns we see unfolding in the “war on terror”. It seems to me that although he may have ventured into new territory, he hasn’t gone beyond his area of expertise at all. Yet you think he has no expertise that makes him fit to teach?
The events of 9/11 can be approached from many directions. Making well-founded judgments from some of these directions does require unusual experience and training. For example, knowing exactly how to accomplish a controlled demolition takes extraordinary expertise. But there are many well-founded judgments about 9/11 that can be made by using research techniques available to any intelligent person with a high school education. For example, it does not take extraordinary expertise to understand the arguments made by David Ray Griffin in 9/11 Truth: The Mysterious Collapse of WTC Seven: Why NIST’s Final 9/11 Report is Unscientific and False. (For more recent developments regarding Griffin’s critique of NIST, see the progress reports of structural engineer, Dr. Leroy Hulsey. A short report can be found on youTube here, but the final report is not due until August 2017.) It is not some special credential that gives legitimacy to a claim about 9/11, but the degree to which one is willing to slog through the mountain of evidence readily available, taking care to give consideration to all sides of the issue, carefully resisting confirmation bias, and so on. If Professor Hall has done this then he has some claim to credibility on the matter. That universities offer no stamp of approval to indicate whether someone has done this sort of research is hardly his fault.
As an aside, I find that your mention of “two towers” [my emphasis] is misleading for anyone whose awareness of the events of 9/11 has been formed only by the mainstream media. The “truther” community emphasizes the free fall collapse of the third building, WTC 7, which was 47 storeys high, and not hit by a plane. This collapse is not dealt with at all in the official report on 9/11, and “truthers” rightly seize upon it in order to initiate doubt about the official narrative.
Beyond the multi-disciplinary aspect of universities in general, the University of Lethbridge views itself as a special kind of university. In its current vision statement, Destination 2020: Vision and Strategy, the university identifies liberal education as its founding principle. I take it that this means empowering students with a sense of how to acquire knowledge across a broad range of subject areas, together with a sense of civic responsibility in how to put that knowledge to use. As far as I can see Professor Hall is a good model in this respect. He is willing to venture into new areas, using his understanding of native American history, and the patterns he sees within that history, to apply to other historical situations and to current events.
One of the most important aspects of liberal education is the development of an open-minded attitude in which any set of one’s own beliefs, no matter how deeply held, can be submitted to rational examination, and possibly changed in the light of newly learned evidence. Deeply held beliefs are often closely connected with our sense of ourselves as morally good. We in the Western democracies like to see ourselves as a force working for peace and the well-being of all. Thus a narrative about 9/11 which indicates that we have been duped in order to cause us unfairly to demonize the less-powerful does not sit well with our sense of self-esteem. It is no surprise that we would react with hostility, rather than appreciation, to such a “conspiracy theory”. Professor Hall believes that we have been duped, and whether he is right or wrong about this, it takes a great deal of courage to do the morally responsible thing: try to disillusion us.
But, you may say, I still have missed the point – namely, that Professor Hall has made assertions he is not competent to make. To a large extent I have already addressed this point. However, let us give further consideration to the question of how competence in a particular area is to be determined, by whom, and what is the role of the university.
Universities do, of course, certify people as competent using a variety of methods. They grade students when they take courses; they have a set of procedures to determine who is to receive graduate degrees; and they have a set of procedures to determine who is to be hired to teach and who is to be granted tenure. It is to be hoped that by the time that a professor has been granted tenure she will have learned enough about how hard it is to come to know things, as opposed to merely adopting unjustified beliefs, that she will have the good sense to know when she can make claims with whatever degree of certitude is appropriate given the evidence surrounding the claims.
But universities do not have access to some mysterious high authority that can infallibly determine whether someone is competent. Whatever authority universities have arises from the competence developed by the individuals, i.e., students and teachers, who immerse themselves in the evidence and struggle with the arguments for and against the claims they make. Such immersion is enabled and encouraged by many institutional arrangements: courses, libraries, laboratories, journals, seminars, conferences, and so on. Of course none of this guarantees the truth of anything, but it is part of the context to be taken into account when judging credibility. The ultimate and only source of authority for any claim is ultimately within the fallible minds of those who have struggled honestly to discover the truth.
You take great issue with the fact that Hall has presented himself as a University of Lethbridge professor when giving presentations dealing with 9/11. On the one hand, if some people regard being a professor as a guarantee of the truth of what she says I agree with you that this is worrisome. But very few, if any, give undue credence to what someone says just because she is a university professor. On the other hand, I do find it a fact worth taking into account that Hall is a university professor. It is a piece of the context that I use to judge his reliability, but it is only one piece of many. It is some indicator that he is sufficiently aware of the difficulties of acquiring genuine knowledge so as not to overstate his case. But, I grant, it could also indicate an institution-induced overconfidence.
When making a set of claims, identifying oneself as a professor draws attention to the institutional arrangements which helped give birth to the claims. This does not entail that the claims have received the imprimatur of the university, for universities do not issue such things. It does not indicate that other professors agree with the claims, for they are a contentious lot, and cannot be expected to agree about anything controversial. It does not indicate that permission has been granted by the university administration for the claims to be made, for they have no right to usurp the authority of those who do the research. Identifying oneself as a professor says, rather, something like this: “I am someone who has made it my profession to do the best I can to do responsible research and to report it as honestly as I can. Moreover, there have been a series of others who have vouched for my credibility, and I have been given a great deal of institutional support for my efforts.” In Professor Hall’s case I see nothing wrong with his saying this. It merely paints a backdrop against which additional assessment is required.
The most important way to judge the competence and credibility of someone is to assess her own speech and writings, which has nothing to do with whether she is a university professor. This is too large a topic to go into here in any detail, but we all have no choice but to bring our own web of belief to bear upon an assessment of the credibility of someone else. We must ask ourselves questions like these: Do the claims cohere with other things I already believe? Are the claims being made on the basis of what the other person is in a position to know? Can the claims be added to my beliefs without conflicting with things I am already sure are true? Where conflict exists between what I’m being told and what I already believe, how sure am I of my own beliefs? What are the grounds on which I believe these things? And so on.
Over the past year I have been paying close attention to the speech and writings of Professor Hall. I have listened to many False Flag Weekly programs; I have watched miscellaneous Youtube videos; I have read much of his two book series The Bowl with One Spoon; and I have read several articles. I also pay attention to what prompts him to do the research he does, and how he arrives at what he believes. See, for example, his article The Lies and Crimes of 911: A Canadian View of the War on Terror’s Origins. I also have been doing a great deal of my own research on the events of 9/11. When I assess his beliefs I can see very well why some people feel they need to reject them outright, or at least find them difficult to absorb without a great deal of cognitive dissonance. As for me, my own web of belief is such that I cannot assimilate them without feeling grief that the free and democratic society that is my hope for humanity, is not the reality. But I can absorb his claims as at least being very plausible, though in general I take care not to adopt an attitude of certainty until I have looked at all sides of a question, and in this case my research is still incomplete. For what it’s worth, my assessment is that he is an honest truth-seeker, and not in the least, as some would have it, motivated by hate.
Perhaps none of the foregoing responses to your accusations will change your mind about how fair you have been to Professor Hall, but would you agree with me about the following? Professor Hall has been defamed by a third party who framed him by posting an extremely vicious anti-Semitic comment on his Facebook page. Would you be willing to denounce this attack? As it stands it appears you are willing only to take the side of the bully and pile on.
When we fail to repudiate false flag attacks those who perpetrate them are encouraged to continue. God help us if we cannot turn and confront them.